"I can juggle, you know."
No one responds, which is customary when no one is around to hear. But sometimes Ralph just talks to himself like that, alone in his massive pile of bricks. He picks up one brick, then another. He does this until he has seven of them accumulated in his giant palms, then he begins. One, two, three, four. All seven pixelated building blocks hop into the air, just like that. He doesn't pay much attention to them, he just does it. He learned a while back that if you concentrated too hard, sometimes you just failed.
When he was learning, it was hard. His temper flared when he dropped something, usually on his own foot, or worse, his head. But he kept at it anyway. There was nothing else to do at the time, except maybe going to Tappers or finally mustering up the gall to drag himself to Bad-Anon for once, after years of 'maybe's and 'I'll think about it's tossed hastily at Clyde when he passed him by in the station.
He really should teach Vanellope how to juggle. She'd get a kick out of it, the little imp. But he doesn't. Maybe it's him being selfish. It isn't like he shows anyone. Whenever he did it before, he always juggled in a place where the Nicelanders couldn't see. At first it was so they wouldn't laugh at his failures as he picked it up, but later it was just to keep it to himself. They wouldn't care anyway, would they? What would they have to say about it? Nothing feasible came to mind.
Seven bricks flew through the air. Seven bricks fell back down. Seven bricks landed in his hands. Seven bricks were Launched back up again.
Brick one. Himself.
Brick two. Vanellope.
Brick three. Felix.
Brick four. Calhoun.
Brick five. Clyde.
Brick six. Tapper.
Brick seven. Gene.
He let the seventh brick drop first, and pretends it wasn't on purpose. He still didn't like Gene. Maybe it was his little pep talk in the penthouse, but he still rubbed him wrong. It didn't take an idiot to realize that when he said 'well now you can live alone in the penthouse' what he really meant was for Ralph to die there, alone. Words like that just can't be forgiven.
Tapper's brick drops second, and that one is somewhat on accident. Tapper was a good friend, but sometimes Ralph had to remember that he was just a bartender. Once Ralph invited him to something (What was it? Pac man's 15th?) and he shook his head, said he couldn't make it. But Ralph caught a glimpse of him there, laughing it up with Mario. Later Tapper would tell him it was nothing personal, just good business. But it was little things that made Ralph jaded as time passed on.
He breaks Clyde's brick in half, a miscalculation in strength. Clyde was a good friend, now that Ralph actually took the time to talk to him. Inky, Blinky, and Pinky were pretty alright too, but none of them seemed to share Clyde's passion for helping people. He often wonders if they just don't care, or if they think their orange brother had it under control. But sometimes he sees Clyde start to break around the edges, when the meetings are laughably small or when someone forgets to brings snacks, or when someone finally breaks and says they don't want to do it anymore, that they just physically can't do it anymore. The week Ralph had to escort Shao Kahn back to his cabinet, he saw something in Clyde's eyes when he came back- something that made him restless. Was it fear?
Juggling four bricks is harder for him than any other number, so he just tosses Calhoun's brick over his shoulder in a seamless motion before returning to his rhythm. Tamora Calhoun. Felix was right when he called her a dynamite gal, but Ralph didn't exactly think of it as a compliment. Dynamite was explosive, and boy, that was Calhoun to a T. He was the best man in their wedding and he usually could only muster up the courage to call her 'Sargent'. She was very... Cold. How she and Felix managed to fall in love, and stay in love, eluded Ralph completely. He liked to think he was on good terms with her, but being on good terms with Calhoun meant little more than not getting smacked upside the head when you did something wrong.
That still happened on occasion.
The three bricks are his staple for a long while, but he finally slips and drops Felix's, wincing as the corner bounces off of his smallest toe. He and Felix were much closer now; they went out to Tapper's together at least once a week, even. But sometimes there were times when Ralph would want Felix to leave him alone rather than stick around and call him brother. 30 years of being ignored and kept away did that to a person he supposed; after years of having space, it was hard to relinquish it. But thankfully Felix got the message after a few subtle hints and would leave him alone to go find his wife, leaving Ralph to his thoughts and his silence. It was better that way.
Two bricks were left, and he kept them going. Vanellope. The brick arced in the air and tumbled down to his fingers before he tossed it up again with a smile, a new nickname popping into his head with each circle. Booger face. Chicken butt. Ankle biter. Fart feathers. As much as he would never admit it, that kid was the reason he got up in the morning. She may be a bit of a brat, but she treated him like a person, and he appreciated that beyond words. A smile dawned on his face as he leisurely tossed his two bricks in a lazy circle, catching them with ease as his mind wandered.
"Hey, Stink brain!" A shrill voice chirped, and Ralph jolted. Both bricks fell into the pile and cracked. He turned and saw Vanellope standing on the remnant of a broken window arch, rocking back and forth with a smile. "Whatcha up to, Ralphie? Been waiting for you for close to an hour!"
"Wha?" Ralph paused in thought, then remember that he and Vanellope were going to try a hand at Dig Dug. "Oh, right, right. Sorry kid, I'm a dummy with dates." He started down the pile, but Vanellope stopped him, glitching into his path and waving her arms.
"No, no! That can wait!" She picked up a couple bricks, the rectangles dwarfing her tiny hands. She thrust them toward him, standing on her toes. "That thing you were doing! Do it again!" He almost said no, but her eyes were wider than the wheels of her kart, and she bit her bottom lip. "Please?!" She begged, and he couldn't help but smile.
"Alright, you've convinced me." He sighed in mock defeat, sitting back on the edge of his stump as he took the bricks from her delicately. "Hand me five more." He asked, and she did just what she was told before sitting on a pile across from him, totally in awe.
"Seven?!" She asked as he started, mouth agape. One, two, three, four. All seven pixelated building blocks hop into the air, just like that. He doesn't pay much attention to them, he just does it. Vanellope squeals in joy and watches them all in awe. Ralph smiles.
"I can juggle, you know."